Tuesday, April 08, 2008

NCAA Showdown: Memphis Blows It; Kansas Claims Victory "Lite"

Well, Memphis blew it. They were the better team, they had a legit lead, they could’ve iced it easily with free throws, then didn’t, then should’ve fouled the Kansas guy who brought in the inbounds pass before he dumped it off to Chalmers, the kid who hit the trey to send it into overtime.

Yeah, Kansas is a very good team, and I won’t say they didn’t deserve to win, but it looked like CBS-TV’s Jim Nantz and Billy Packer were having a hard time finding an “insta-story” on the court while surrounded by the Jayhawks, who looked as shellshocked as triumphant. They won, all right, but they were not superior. If Chalmers’ shot clanks off the rim, only Memphis gets remembered this night. As it is, Memphis will probably be longer remembered: as the supertalented team that choked. Too bad.

As for Nantz and Packer, their replacement on this telecast is long overdue.

Nantz, who dreams of golf at night, just does not have the necessary edge to broadcast an NCAA championship game. He’s soft. And he’s always trying to find warm and fuzzy stories about the kids. (Gack!) At times he’s overly, and incorrectly, dramatic, and while he has one of those “announcer" voices, it’s just too prissy. It’s fine for whispering on the 18th green as Tiger’s about to drop a critical birdie putt, but for basketball? No thanks.

Packer, who has been skewered in these pages before, remains a hot-air balloon full of spurious observation. The man’s incapable of developing a broad theme coherently. He nitpicks at every play, trying to find rationales for every action and reaction. If a kid hits a shot, he’ll say, “See, that’s a good shot for him to take.” If a kid misses a shot, he’ll say, “That’s not a shot he should be taking.” It’s obnoxiously lame stuff, and he’s been getting away with it for decades.

And here’s something I never thought I’d say: Dick Vitale knows what he’s talking about.

I have found Vitale’s style totally goofy and rather queer for years. All that “Diaper Dandy” stuff always sounded a little, uh, well, offputtingly “intimate.” (Don’t be talking about young, virile athletes and diapers in the same sentence, Dick. Not cool.) But anyway, despite his clearly obnoxious persona, I started listening to the guy more closely during the NCAAs. What can I say? His analysis was almost always spot-on, and his projections were rooted in sound assessments of the teams. The guy actually could put the on-court stuff into context, thus clarifying what we’d seen or were about to see. So hats off to Dickie V, who was recently announced as a new member of the Naismith Memorial National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Memo to Packer: There is no room for you there. Don’t even think about it.)

More b-ball media fodder: I don’t think Digger Phelps liked having Bobby Knight on the ESPN set during this Big Dance. They bumped Digger over to the right and stuck Knight right smack dab in the middle, and allowed him the run of the roost. Knight was okay. It was fun to hear what he had to say. Sometimes he was repetitive, but he was always happy to defer to his partners, and he seemed reasonably comfortable on the dais. Which may be why Phelps looked slightly less than comfortable. As the resident college b-ball guru (with ESPN since 1994), his thunder got stolen a lot, not only by Knight but also by Vitale. Plus, Digger couldn’t trot out championship stories. His best effort in 20 years as head coach at Notre Dame (1971-1991) was a Final Four appearance in 1978. Not to put down Digger. He had an excellent coaching career, and he took Notre Dame to places in basketball that they had not seen before, nor have seen since. Including his one-year stint as head coach at Fordham, Digger’s career record is 419-200. Nothing to sneeze at.

Digger’s given name is Richard. I don’t think I ever knew that before. Did you?

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